Cautions for Orphanage Volunteering

Source: [London School of Economics, LSE]

Overseas volunteering is also extremely popular amongst students. Making a difference whilst forming new friendships in an exotic location; who wouldn’t be tempted by that? Volunteer tourism, voluntourism, volunteer travel, or overseas volunteering, call it what you like, has experienced massive growth over the past ten years. It’s seen by many as a rite of passage in modern times.

But with such growth have come problems. Understandably volunteers want to volunteer to make an impact with those that need the help the most. More often than not they are pointed in the direction of vulnerable African or Asian children, particularly those that live in orphanages. Google ‘volunteer overseas’ and the screenshot below shows the image results that appear. Young, mainly white, people teaching, cuddling and playing with children without a local adult in sight perpetuating the dangerous myth that international volunteers are needed ‘to give love’ to these children because they lack the relevant support in their own communities.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of agencies that are prepared to connect well meaning, but unqualified and illsuited, volunteers from the UK with vulnerable children in the global south. The business model for the sector is for volunteers to pay, sometimes thousands of pounds, for such opportunities. By taking part in such activities we’ve managed to make a commodity of spending time with children. Does that sound like helping?

There are many reasons why volunteering in orphanages can be particularly detrimental to children: it can lead to child trafficking, sexual exploitation and psychological disorders. Along with the fact that many children in these residential centres have at least one living parent. Over 60 years of research shows the problems associated with growing up in a residential care home and we should all be striving to help keep families together not creating further demand for more orphans by continually sending volunteers to orphanages.


About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.